Monday, March 10, 2008

Nurture the God in You

"Experience is not what happens to us, experience is what we do with what happens to us." — George Kelly

I have often returned mentally to a trip I was taking by car from northern Minnesota to the east coast of the United States back in 1969. We were four college students in the car – owned by the parents of one of them–who were traveling east that Christmas holiday intersession each for a different reason. As a senior in college that year, my purpose for the trip was to visit several college campuses in the Northeast in order to make a decision later about where I wished to attend graduate school.

However, before we even arrived, the trip almost ended. Here’s why. It was my turn to drive and we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike heading toward New York City. The weather was horrible. Growing up as a teenager in Minnesota and learning to drive there, I was not unaccustomed to bad winter weather. In Minnesota, however, the cold is usually a dry cold. In Pennsylvania, the weather that evening was a mix of rain and snow, making the road icy slick even with the high volume of car and truck traffic along this section of the turnpike. What’s worse, it was foggy.

Our adventure begins sometime around 9:00 pm. I was driving in the passing lane. I remember some comments about the weather and we were guarded about the inclement weather conditions, especially the potential of icy roads. Then, out of nowhere seemingly, we passed a warning marker with what appeared as blinking yellow and red lights situated just over a rise instead of on its opposite side. That was the brilliance of the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol who I assumed later had family in the towing business. The usual response – and it was mine – is to slow the car so as to avoid whatever potential danger is being advertised. Therefore, I tapped the brakes as I had learned to do in Minnesota to avoid spinning on ice. Of course, the car began to spin. Usually, I was in the habit of checking my rear- and side-view mirrors to determine where I was in relation to other cars, but, at that moment, I could not remember if there was another car to my right or behind. And, I did not want to take my eyes from the impending crisis below to look.

In front I could see cars ahead straddling the road following an obvious accident, whose drivers probably did exactly what I did – tapping the brakes and losing control of their vehicles on the icy road. My traveling companions are now going bananas, but I remember time slowing down for me as a myriad of millisecond calculations was being assessed about what to do. What now was the primary question? Option one was to continue to tap the brakes and gain traction. That was clearly not working.

Finally, the time for options was closing as we neared the collision of cars in front of us, so I decided that our best option was to go off the road to the left and at worst hit a steel barrier in its middle if we had not stopped before then. I assumed that the barrier would absorb some of the shock. So, that’s what I did to the terror of my fellow passengers who were still looking ahead when I quickly turned the car to the left onto the medium. My calculations were accurate, except for one unaccounted for problem. After we hit the barrier, which did, in fact, absorb the collision as there was little impact, but instead of stopping us, the barrier acted as a rubber band and rebounded the car back across the road! This time, I looked to the left with big eyes in the night to see if any cars were barreling down on us. I remember thinking a short prayer or blasphemy–I can’t remember which–that there would not be any and was relieved to see none as the car safely crossed the road and stopped perfectly on the emergency strip to be pointed in our initial direction.

This was not, however, the end of the story. Relieved, the guys bounded from the car to check on their vitals and also to get out of the way in case another car experienced what we had just gone through. Of course, one did, and as I was walking from the car, someone yelled that another vehicle was out of control on its way directly towards us. I planted my foot to take off and slipped to the icy ground, scraping my right palm on broken glass and stone, the scars of which still remain. While down, I looked up to see the car coming right for us. At that moment, unable to get to my feet, I simply said to myself that if it’s my time, so be it, or words to that affect. As the car came within 15-20 feet of me, it veered back suddenly to the left and across the road to the other side, with the help of its driver, or not.

Later on, I would describe this incident as a miracle. Today, however, with more worldly experience, I believe that everything that occurs in life is a miracle. The whole of life, to me, is a miracle we receive from nature and shaped by the God in us. To some, this will sound blasphemous, but to many peoples not shackled by established religious beliefs, it will not. The difference between miracles and "the natural order" is only one of perception. Most humans in Western culture refer to "the natural order" as the laws of cause and effect that God set up at the creation of the universe – such as gravity and electromagnetism, things that the human eye can see or the brain can reason. In general, when these laws operate consistently, except when there is an exception, we call the outcome "a miracle."

According to Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a noted Hebrew scholar, nature is an illusion which God created in order to give human beings free choice to recognize God or not. Once a human being has risen above the illusion of nature as an independent power, he is no longer constrained by "the laws of nature."

Respectfully, I disagree with the rabbi. Nature is not the illusion, God, as defined by established religion, is the illusion. The God in me is not the same as the God in him, you or anyone else. If this is the case, how can you believe in my God and me in yours? Because of the laws of Nature. The single most comprehensible thread that holds our gods in common is Nature. It is nature that is orderly, that has a systemic plan, and nature that established coherent fundamental laws that humans can observe and hear and touch and smell.

Well, how is it that someone else’s God is a tyrant and another person’s God is kind? It’s quite simple, humans are a reflection of their nature as is their god. A god in the body of a tyrant will be a tyrannical god. A god in the body of an altruistic person will most likely be a kind god. Each of our gods, however, will be forged by the forces of nature that began before our births, in the sperm and eggs of our parents and nature’s water that bonded them together to launch the age-old process of human procreation and natural selection.

Nonetheless, all humans live in social units and as organisms we must adjust to survival as the environment dictates. As organisms, we are not always weak, but neither are we always strong. Understanding our nature provides us with a roadmap for navigating our trials and tribulations, whether we are confronted by predator beasts or embracing angels. Most often, distinguishing between the two is not as simple as it seems. The predator may wear the garments of an angel and an angel may speak the language of a predator.

What I have found in my own life is that as soon as I connect to the God in me, I acquire a mature understanding of my environment, and if something is meant to happen, there are signs, and depending upon what I do about things I can control—mostly my own body and emotions—I wait for nature to take control of the processes that it controls and respond in ways that my nature permits. What I learned from the car hurtling toward me, catastrophe written all over its front bumper, except there was no catastrophe, only crisis resolution, was that sometimes waiting and watching is preferable to acting too quickly.

Because of these experiences I gained a fuller appreciation of both my nature and the freedom that comes with being acclimated to life by its forces. This occurred when I acknowledged that the car incident and my life had no existence independent of nature and the God in me. Although the God in me had walked with me before this event, it was not always consciously so because I did not understand cerebrally that nature walked in tandem inside me as well. But since that event, I have been more conscious about my relationship with nature within and external to me and the God in me and am thankful for their presence. More importantly, there have been numerous blessings, big and small blessings that have enriched my consciousness about life and time since that watershed moment in my evolving consciousness.

There are some for whom any god is an abomination. What's wrong with a life devoid of God? I can’t say or, perhaps, won’t say. Each person must make that declaration. What I know quite simply is that the God in you is a reflection of reality – both ultimate reality and immediate reality – but it is still only your reality until you transform that reality into universal, natural law and coexist on this planet peacefully with others irrespective of differences. As a human being, life should be an aspiration toward greater consciousness, that place that humans call wisdom.

There is a spiritual law in many human religions that says whatever humans do, God responds to them in kind – measure for measure. In other words, when we want the God in us to go beyond the laws of nature, we must first journey beyond our own nature. This is a journey not easily made, and sadly, many established religions are not true to their nature so their communicants may never know theirs. Of course there are humans who do not permit other humans to coexist. What shall one do? It's quite simple, give measure for measure and do not look back.

To live in this world oblivious to this amazing journey is like being a bird oblivious to the wind, which seems to me a good measure to take of this rite of passage. For to fully appreciate a bird – a raven or a condor for example – soaring in the sky in perfect harmony with the wind and be able to connect yourself with their flight is to know what it means to aspire beyond your limits and reach for a higher level of consciousness, spiritual and physical, feeling not only what the bird feels, but also the wind, the earth, and the heavens.

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